May 10, 2002
Lisp Machine Video

Ever wondered what it's really like to use a lisp machine? Thanks to Rainer Joswig, you can get some idea. He's taken the time to record a video of him interacting with his Macivory. (Rainer previously contributed some lisp porn.)

lisp machine screenshot

Rainer says

"The video is screen capture of an interaction with a Symbolics Macivory 3 Lisp machine running Genera 8.3. The window is displayed via X11 to a Mac G4, where the interaction has been recorded. It is similar to the window one would get as a console on the Lisp machine. The interaction is a bit slow due to the screen capture going on. In real usage it is much faster."

"Shown are the Listener (used for commands and Lisp interaction), Zmacs (the Editor), the Document Examiner and the Presentation Inspector."

Download the video:, 25 minutes, 981x660, 7.5 MB, 50 MB uncompressed.
(Uses the Animation codec, so you can probably watch it in linux. It'd be great if someone converted this to a high quality mpeg.)

Posted by jjwiseman at May 10, 2002 12:25 AM

Wow! Did I ever! Not only did I find this awesome video, this site (new to me) shall be a new source of good reading. Thanks!

Posted by: Aaron on May 11, 2002 07:44 PM

"They were used to produce music videos by Peter Gabriel or animations for movies like TRON."

Great, there's more memetics making me confuse Richard P. Gabriel with Peter Gabriel.

Posted by: Andreas Fuchs on June 1, 2003 11:53 AM

Well, TRON was rendered in '81~'82 before Symbolics was even incorporated, there is no lisp machine used in any of the CGI in TRON.

Most of the CGI was rendered on a Foonly, some kind of DEC-10 on stereoids runing TOPS I believe... was programmed almost in "bare metal" all the graphics were dumped onto a film printer.

Posted by: Javi on December 4, 2003 12:04 AM

I think that is right. Recently I read a bit more about it and watched some more of the "making of" stuff on my Tron DVD.

It seems that (only) a part of the animations were done in Lisp and not on a Lisp Machine. Though from what I understand the software that has been written for Tron made it later onto the Lisp Machine and probably has been a start for the 3d graphics software from Symbolics. Take it with a grain of salt - maybe somebody can confirm this.

Posted by: Rainer Joswig on December 4, 2003 12:14 AM

Uh. sorry, some of this is correct and some is wrong. I only comment because others have lifted your blog notes as fact.

Many different CG houses participated in the making of Tron. The only ones I know about are MAGI and Symbolics. Craig Reynolds wrote some really nice lisp code to display the solar sailor. It was called ASAS (actor/scriptor animation system). I should post the source code...

MAGI did the light cycles and that upside down U shaped thing. They did some really nice work (in fortran) because at the time they (accidently) had some of the first ray-tracing code.

(imagine if you wanted to simulate the effects of an atomic bomb. hmmm. you might simulate particles flying around the room and bouncing off things. hmmm. a lot like light. oops! ray tracing)


Posted by: Brad Parker on May 28, 2006 05:24 PM

The business efforts in the Lisp area have failed; people still would like to have similar sorts of environments.

There are still some used Lisp Machines out there, and a company called Symbolics may be able to provide Genera software to run on a Compaq/Digital Alpha machine atop what used to be called OSF/1, although contact information is spotty, and pricing is reputedly quite hefty.

Posted by: Jerem on February 1, 2007 12:26 PM
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